By Dr. Charles Shepherd
I have always taken a fairly cautious view about the advisability of giving flu vaccinations to people with ME/CFS. And like some (but not all) of my medical colleagues, I believe that this vaccine is probably best avoided if you are in the very early stages of this illness (especially if it follows an infective onset), or you continue to have a significant flu-like/infective/immunological component (eg recurrent sore throats, enlarged glands, joint pains, temperature control problems). However, if you have any other medical condition (such as diabetes, heart disease, asthma, or kidney problems) which could be seriously affected by a dose of flu, then a vaccination would almost certainly be advisable. And this would also apply if you've had a flu vaccine in previous years without any problem – even though the viral make-up of the vaccine changes from year to year.
The link between flu vaccination and triggering/causing a relapse of ME/CFS is based on anecdotal reports, and it's interesting to note that some new research is suggesting that flu vaccine could also be linked to the development of MS and other serious neurological conditions such as Guillain Barre syndrome (GBS). The new research*, carried out by the US Institute of Medicine on behalf of the Centres for Disease Control, concluded that a causal link between flu vaccine and the onset of MS and GBS "cannot be ruled out" but blamed a dearth of good quality scientific evicence for its failure to reach a firm conclusion.
So while the general benefits of mass vaccination certainly against flu outweigh any possible risks, the role of flu vaccine as a possible trigger factor in the development of serious neurological disorders certainly requires some proper epidemiological research.
*Source: 'Pulse': Flu vaccine link to MS 'cannot be ruled out' – 21 October 2003
Source: Received via Co-Cure.